What’s a Democrat to do?
The day after the election, I saw a photograph of a huge wave on a Republican Web site. I soon realized: I’ve seen that same photo before. After a minute or so it came to me. That very same wave picture was on the cover of the liberal magazine The Nation two Novembers ago.Some say the wave was an ideological shift, that it’s time for progressives to get the message and quit the over-reaching. Run to the center with our tails between our legs.Rubbish. It now makes no sense, in terms of electoral strategy or for the common good, for Democrats to become pale imitations of Republicans. As the wise sage Rocky admonished Bullwinkle: That trick never works.The anger, expressed so clearly at the polls, was about the economy. The newly elected Republicans have no plan. The party is fractured and incoherent. Their simplistic dream of jobs being created by cutting the deficit mixed with more tax breaks for the uber-rich is economic nonsense.For Democrats to buy into this fuzzy foolishness would be incredibly counterproductive. Paul Hodes tried it and was crushed, barely two points ahead of Granny D in 2004. True, good, solid stand-up progressives like Carol Shea-Porter were also pulled down by the undertow, but the so-called centrist Democrats, the Blue Dogs, dropped from 54 to 26 in the House. When President Clinton tacked to the perceived center he was also “shellacked” in 1994.After the last time I saw that tidal wave photo, the Republicans did not move left, where the victory had been perceived. Instead they hunkered down, attacked Democrats and went on the aggressive offense. And it worked.The enthusiasm gap was Obama raising hope very high and letting us down. Starting off in a compromise position is not the same as leadership. Progressives failed to go on the offense for our values. We let the other side communicate the message, so we were left to explain.As any former candidate knows, when you are explaining, you are losing.So what’s a good Democrat to do? Just as the Tea Party learned from the success of ‘60s lefty organizer Saul Alinsky, so progressives now really have no choice but to stand and fight.Will we lose? Of course. In the short term. The New Hampshire Senate Democrats are decimated – from a solid majority of 14 to a mere wisp of five. There, as in the U.S. House, it does no good to become an echo chamber for the majority.The new majority will fail to create jobs through the old, tried and failed trickle-down. Now progressives must articulate our core values.When the new majority gives more power to the insurance industry, our indignation must be clear. Democrats have an obligation to shout it out that Republicans are taking power from the middle class and handing it up to the top 2 percent.Stand up for real Wall Street reform and economic stimulus. Tiptoeing around this got us nowhere. And when government spying on its own citizens becomes ever more intrusive, Democrats must be there standing up for privacy.There’s no better organizing principle than adversity. This is an opportunity for Democrats to define ourselves. As a member of a previously tiny New Hampshire Senate six-pack, we made speeches and lost. Right after that, we won the majority for the first time in 86 years.State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen hosts a radio show, “The Burt Cohen Show,” which can be heard on WSCA-FM and at TheBurtCohenShow.com.